We’d all like to avoid them if we could. But sometimes you just have to have one of those difficult conversations with your boss, a member of staff, a friend, parent or partner. So what steps can you take to make the conversation easier – and even more importantly to ensure that you achieve the best possible outcome. Here are four essentials to bear in mind:
You are hurt or sad or even angry following a particular incident. You know you need to talk to the other person involved. But what would success look like? It’s amazing how many people start difficult conversations without first being absolutely clear in their own minds what they want to achieve. To be successful, this should always be a positive outcome – not just to try to stop the other person from doing something again in future. You are going to end the conversation with a request to the other person and you need to frame this as positively as you can. It is strange but true that asking someone to always lock the filing cabinet before they go home is so much more likely to be successful than asking them not to leave it unlocked. The first is a precise call to action, the second is a much more complicated request that is much harder to remember.
The Losada Ratio states that in order for somebody to react to a request to change their behaviour without immediately going on the defensive, they need to receive at least three times as much praise as criticism. The ideal ratio is 5 to 1. If all you have ever said to the other person is to complain or to use negative language, you are in for a hard time when you have an important request to make of them. But suddenly giving somebody lots of praise to soften them up in order to hit them hard 5 minutes later is unlikely to be particularly productive either. So it’s never too soon to begin to recognise the good qualities in others, even if it is your boss!
There are very few people in the world, if any, who are inherently bad. Everyone has a story to tell: A reason they behave the way they do. And if they are being unsocial, it’s almost always because they are feeling insecure or badly treated or abandoned. With this in mind it’s really not going to help your cause if you begin your difficult conversation by diagnosing the other person as lazy or rude or wicked or selfish. Instead talk about the incident from YOUR point of view and the feelings it gave YOU and WHY. For example: “When I came to work this morning and found the filing cabinet unlocked I felt very worried that someone could have accessed some very confidential information because I gave a promise to keep this information secret”. If necessary it is at this point that you may need to draw their attention to possible future consequences of a repetition. But if so, just keep to the facts, as unthreateningly as possible.
Human beings are social animals. We are hard-wired to help each other when asked, especially if the cost is not too high for ourselves. So end your conversation with a polite request for a positive action that will help you in future. If you’ve got the rest of the conversation right, your request will be almost impossible to refuse!
Becoming better at having difficult conversations is just one of the great outcomes of working with a coach. To find out more:
Click here to read “An Introduction to Business Coaching”
Click here to read “An Introduction to Personal Life Coaching”
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